Networking. It’s a word that strikes fear in even the most confident people. What are the rules of a networking event? How do I go about networking effectively online? Do I need to hand business cards out to every single person I meet?

Don’t worry, we’re here with the ultimate guide to networking.

First, networking online. Some people reckon that social media is only good for posting pictures of your nights out, checking out who your ex is dating and finding out who did what after you left school. But actually, social media can be used for so much more. LinkedIn is one of the best tools for connecting with people professionally, it’s great for posting your current and past jobs and keeping in touch with people you have met on work experience placements.

Kate Allen, managing director and co-founder of recruitment agency Allen Associates, told the Guardian: “Have a good look at LinkedIn and do some extensive research. Compare and contrast what you believe are strong and professional profiles. Build your profile using the best of what you have seen online.”

Twitter can also be really useful for creating professional connections. You don’t have to worry about following people you don’t know on Twitter – it’s what it was made for. If someone has an open Twitter profile, they’re inviting you to follow them. So no matter what the industry is that you’re interested in, get following people who are working in that field. And don’t just be a passive observer, get involved in conversations, take part in debates, get your name known by the people who have the jobs that you want – you could face them on an interview panel someday and it can only help if they already know a little bit about you before you walk into the interview.

Don’t just focus on following people who are working in the field that interests you – find other people who are also trying to get into that industry. Being part of a community who all want to work in the same industry can be really helpful, it can provide you with inspiration about how to get into your dream job and support for when it feels like you’re never going to make it. Not to mention all the useful contacts you’ll have as people start landing jobs in that field. Also, these people can be a friendly face at those terrifying networking events.

Speaking of which, events are possibly one of the most terrifying forms of networking. You’re in a room with a load of people who either already work in the industry that you want to go into, or people like you who want to get into that industry. No matter when you get there, you will most likely feel awkward. Either you will turn up to find that everyone else has decided to turn up fashionably late so you will stand and make awkward small talk with the organisers until more people turn up. Or, you’ll turn up fashionably late to find that everyone else is already in deep conversation and you’ll stand in the corner with a glass of wine willing someone, anyone, to come and speak to you because you don’t want to interrupt their conversations.

Well, don’t be scared! As we said, making connections with other people who are trying to get into the same industry can help – but don’t be tempted to spend the whole event just speaking to them. You’ll only kick yourself later for missing out on the opportunity to speak to potential employers.

Often the best way to start a conversation with someone is to be introduced by someone else, but this isn’t always possible. If the networking event is following a conference or a lecture or presentation of some kind, as they often are, one really great way to start conversations is to open with “I really enjoyed your talk and there were some things that I hadn’t thought of before”. This immediately puts the other person at ease, and gives you a good starting point to introduce yourself and what you do. It’ll give you an opportunity to share your thoughts and ideas on the field and to learn from someone with more experience than you.

Obviously it’s not always going to be possible to approach the speaker at a networking event, but you can use what you’ve heard to start conversations with other people too. Start a conversation by asking their opinion on what was said. Never forget that the most unexpected person can turn out to be the most helpful so speak to everyone.

Are you nervous about how to speak to people at networking events? You’re not alone. Everyone feels a bit scared about talking to people they don’t know but the best piece of advice we can give is to just be yourself. Simon Wright, talent executive for BBC Academy and the BBC Production Talent Pool wrote about his tips for networking recently. He said: “Be professional but polite, show your personality and speak passionately. For me there is nothing worse than someone spouting business talk which leaves me clueless as to what they said.”

One of the biggest decisions to make about networking events is whether to hand out business cards or not. Some people think they’re the best way for someone to remember who you are, while others think they’re a useless piece of paper that will only get thrown away when pockets are emptied. We think there are both positives and negatives to handing out business cards. Obviously having a piece of card with your name and details on will remind someone of you at a later date – even if it is just when they throw it away, however the more important thing about handing out business cards is getting people’s contact details in return.

It’s no good handing out your details and expecting other people to get in touch with you, chances are they won’t. But if you get other people’s contact details you can follow up with a short email a few days after the event saying how lovely it was to meet them and here’s my CV as mentioned/are there any work experience opportunities available with you/here’s some more of my thoughts on such and such.

Networking isn’t all about attending special events or being a social media machine though. You can network through people you already know too. Speak to everyone about what you want to do with your life. You’ll be surprised to discover how many people know someone who already works in that field and could put you in touch with someone who might be able to help you – even your hairdresser might be able to help so don’t discount anyone.

Most importantly though, never pass on an opportunity to network, like this Networking made simple one happening on January 15th!

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